For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

The Worsdell Era

G14 Class 2-4-0 1882-1883

562-571, 640-649

The G14 express passenger 2-4-0s were Worsdell's initial new engines for the GER, the first being completed at the end of 1882. The boiler was similar to that used on Bromley's 'Singles', whilst the valves were driven by the radial link motion that had been recently invented by David Joy, a colleague of Worsdell's at Crewe. The leading carrying axle had radial axleboxes developed from Webb's LNWR pattern. Externally, the locomotives set new standards in locomotive aesthetics that were widely copied in the late Victorian period in Britain. The cabs were large, and the engines had continuous splashers over the driving wheels. They were finished in the new blue livery that Worsdell also introduced to the GER.

Although a successful design, they tended to be somewhat unsteady at speed, and were heavy on coal and water, a fault that was blamed on the Joy valve gear. Three engines were the subject of experimental rebuildings under James Holden: No. 562 was fitted with Y14-pattern cylinders and Stephenson motion, together with separate splashers as used on Holden's T19 class 2-4-0s. No. 569 had the radial axle removed and a plain axle with inside and outside bearings fitted, again as used on the T19s. Finally, No. 644 was fitted with Morton's valve gear in 1894. Eight of the twenty engines were rebuilt with new boilers in 1891-2, and they were all withdrawn in 1895-1901.

G15 Class 0-4-0T 1883-1897

LNER Class Y-6


The first of the famous GER tram engines were constructed as class G15 in 1883 to T.W. Worsdell's design for the Wisbech & Upwell Tramway. This line was one of the very few that were constructed in the true spirit of the 1870 Tramways & Light Railways Act, which was intended to encourage the building of railways in rural areas. Railways built under this Act were less expensive to construct, as they did not have to conform to the stringent conditions imposed on 'normal' railways. Thus, the conditions were relaxed in regard to fencing, level crossings, signalling etc, but strict limits were imposed on maximum speed and the construction of the locomotives. In actual fact, the vast majority of railways built under the Act were urban street tramways.

To conform to the regulations, the engines used on the Wisbech line had to have all working parts enclosed, the driver had to have the clearest possible view, and speed governors had to be fitted, among a number of other requirements. Thus, the G15s were enclosed in a wooden body that has often been compared in appearance to that of a goods brake van. Cowcatchers were fitted at either end, and the wheels were enclosed in sheet metal side skirts. Underneath, the engines were conventional small inside-cylinder 0-4-0 tank engines, although the tanks ran for practically the length of the frames, above the wheels, and beneath the body. The small boilers were of the old-fashioned type with a raised firebox, which was surmounted by the dome, with the safety valves on top. Footplates were provided at both ends, and the regulator handle and reversing gear wheel was duplicated at the smokebox end. The crew could pass freely from one end to the other inside the body, on either side of the boiler.

The engines (and the tramway) were a great success, and further examples were built both for use on the tramway as well as at docks and harbours, such as Yarmouth. Two more were built in 1885, three in 1891-2, and a final two in 1897. The original engines worked at 120 lbs. psi. pressure, but this was increased to 140 lbs. in the 1897 engines, and all but one of the earlier locomotives were later given similar boilers.

In 1903 James Holden introduced the more-powerful six-coupled tram engines of the C53 class, and withdrawal of the first of the G15s occurred in 1907. Another followed in 1909, and two more in 1913. Thus, six engines became LNER property as class Y-6. Passenger services on the Wisbech & Upwell line ceased at the end of 1927, and two more engines were withdrawn shortly afterwards. The remaining four spent most of their time in store, being put back into traffic each year for the fruit season on the tramway, to assist the C53 class. Two more were scrapped in 1940, and the remaining two became British Railways stock, but were withdrawn by 1952.

Y14 Class 0-6-0 1883-1892, 1899, 1906, 1912-1913

LNER Class J-15

37-41, 119-124, 507-571, 610-649, 680-699, 800-934, 936-945

With the opening in 1882 of the GN&GE Joint Line, the GER urgently needed heavy mineral engines, which Worsdell supplied in the Y14 class 0-6-0s, the first of which were built in 1883. These were straightforward locomotives, and Worsdell employed the conventional Stephenson link motion, driving valves placed vertically between the cylinders. The boiler was a new design, which in time was to become a standard fitting on more than half of the locomotive stock of the GER by 1900. Such was the need for these engines that as well as ordering thirty from Stratford Works, a further nineteen were contracted out to Sharp, Stewart & Co.

When James Holden took over as Locomotive Superintendent there were some 69 Y14s in service or under construction, and he continued building them throughout his term of office. Indeed, so useful were these engines that examples were also built under both of his successors. The details of the design were naturally up-dated over the construction period, and most of these refinements were applied retrospectively to the existing engines as they were overhauled. Nevertheless, the final engines built in 1913 were essentially no different to the originals, built thirty years earlier.

The only major modification to the design was in 1891, when the boiler was modified to have a sloping, instead of level grate. The other classes that used this boiler type could be fitted with either variety, but the design of the rear of the frames of the Y14s had to be altered to take the 'bevel grate' boiler, and the flat grate version had to be continued in production for reboilering the earlier engines. At the same time that this modification was introduced, the driving wheels were enlarged from 4-ft. 10 ins. to 4-ft. 11-ins. diameter by the use of thicker tyres on all engines. At the end of the same year, the boiler design was further modified in that the barrel was made in two instead of three rings, with the dome on the front ring. No. 930 was from this first batch of engines with this boiler, and on December 11/12th 1891 it was constructed and steamed in the World record time of 9 hours 47 minutes, a feat which has never been equalled - let alone bettered.

In 1893, Holden decided to re-design the Y14 class with the standard cylinder and motion arrangement that he used on his own larger locomotive designs, with the valves beneath the cylinders. The new engines - class N31 - were ultimately not a success, and in 1899 he reverted to building Y14s. A further thirty were built initially, and these had a shallower cab cut out, whilst the boiler was now made in two rings telescopically jointed instead of butt-jointed, and the pressure raised from 140 lbs. to 160 lbs. psi. Twenty of these new Y14s had steam brakes, which were already being fitted to the existing engines. However, the other ten were fitted with Westinghouse brakes - five of them having vacuum ejectors in addition - and these proved to be most versatile engines for passenger and goods work alike.

In 1900, the more powerful F48 class 0-6-0s were introduced, and these then became the standard GER goods engine. Nevertheless, three further batches of ten Y14s were built in 1906, 1912 and 1913, all of which were dual braked. When construction ceased, a total of 289 Y14s had been built.

In the First World War 43 of the goods engines were loaned to the ROD, and they worked close to the British lines in France and Belgium. All returned after the Armistice, but one was badly damaged, and became the first to be scrapped, in 1920. Normal withdrawal commenced two years later, and the 272 engines that became LNER property in 1923 were the largest single class inherited by the new company, who reclassified them J-15.

Two main modifications were made to some of the J-15s in the LNER period. By 1932 the number of older engines had dwindled to the point where it was no longer economical to continue building the flat grate boiler when renewals were required. Thus, the frames of those engines which were deemed fit to continue in traffic were modified so that the bevel-bottom boiler could be fitted. In 1931-2 seven of the goods engines were equipped with vacuum brakes so that they, too, could be used on passenger trains. Five of these were also given side window cabs and back cabs on the tenders so that they could work the former Colne Valley & Halstead line, which had no turntables.

By Nationalisation there were still 127 J-15s in service, and although withdrawals steadily continued, there remained eleven in traffic at the beginning of 1962, the final year of GE steam locomotives. Four were still at work at the very end, on September 9th. The low pitch of their boilers - and consequently tall chimneys - endeared them to enthusiasts, but contributed to the view held by the uninitiated that the GER was a somewhat quaint system. Most people were ignorant of the fact that the majority of the later survivors were only about fifty years old. However, of the last four, three had been built in 1912, but the other dated to 1889, and was thus half as old again!

G16 Class 4-4-0 1884-1885

230, 700-709

Worsdell had obviously been well acquainted with F.W. Webb's experiments with compound expansion engines on the LNWR, and he decided to try compounding himself, the system that he devised using only two cylinders. The Worsdell system was very similar to that being developed concurrently by the German engineer August von Borries, the principal differences being in the starting valve arrangements. Accordingly, the system was jointly patented by them. In 1884 Worsdell built an experimental 2-cylinder compound 4-4-0 locomotive for the GER, No. 230. It was identical to the G14 class 2-4-0, except that it was fitted with a leading bogie to provide room for the larger low-pressure cylinder and - like most compound engines - the boiler pressure was higher than normal, at 160 lbs. psi.

The cylinders had a common stroke of 24 inches, the high pressure cylinder being 18-ins. in diameter, and the low pressure 26-ins. The valves were on top, driven by Joy valve gear, as on the G14s. The prototype engine was ordered to 'letter account' G16, which became the class designation in the usual way. After a period of testing and refinement, ten more locomotives were ordered, numbered 700-709, although only one of them had been delivered when Worsdell resigned to join the North Eastern Railway, where he went on to perfect the system further.

In service, the G16s were 'good pullers', but tended to become sluggish when the motion was notched up. Overall, they showed a reduction of 14% in coal consumption compared with the G14 2-4-0s. However, against this economy had to be set the greater maintenance costs of the higher pressure boilers. When James Holden reduced the pressure to 150 lbs. - still 10 lbs. psi. more than the G14s - the fuel economy advantage fell to only two percent. Thus, in 1892 the G16s were regarded as surplus to requirements and Nos. 700-709 were placed on the 'duplicate list' as 0700-0709. However, at the same time, No. 230 was rebuilt with G14-type simple-expansion cylinders, and the remainder were similarly altered by the end of the year. Two years later, all eleven engines were given new boilers, and they continued to give useful service until withdrawn in 1902-1904.

M15/M15R & G69 Class 2-4-2T 1884-1886, 1903-1909, 1911-1912

LNER Class F-4, F-5 & F-6

71-80, 91-111, 140-149, 170-189, 211-235, 236-244, 572-591, 650-679, 780-799, 1-10, 61-70

For the outer suburban passenger services and country lines Worsdell produced the M15 class 2-4-2 tank engines in 1884. These original thirty engines were Nos. 650-679, and they had Joy valve gear, and radial axles fore and aft. The Joy radial gear was supposed to provide freer-running characteristics, reducing back-pressure and resulting in more economical working. However, in service, although free-running, they were found to be heavy on coal and water, earning the epithet 'Gobblers', a term that was applied to all subsequent GER 2-4-2Ts long after the problem had been cured!

The blame was put on the Joy valve gear, but more recent analysis of the characteristics of the valve events shows that there was little to chose between the Stephenson motion as used on the Y14 0-6-0s and the Joy gear of the M15s. What was different was the width of the steam ports, which increased the area of steam flow. Engine drivers of the period were generally reluctant to 'notch up' the reversing gear as speed increased, preferring to 'drive on the regulator'. In the case of the M15s, this merely meant that more steam was used to no good effect. Indeed, Worsdell himself stated that his primary reason for experimenting with compounding on the G16 4-4-0s was to force the drivers to 'drive expansively', as this was the only way to get good results from a compound locomotive.

When James Holden succeeded Worsdell in the year following the introduction of the M15s he built another ten, Nos. 790-799, but in these he used the Y14-pattern cylinders with the valves between and Stephenson motion. These engines proved to be more economical in service, and thus Holden concluded that he was correct to suspect the Joy gear. In the mid-1890s the M15 class came due for reboilering, and Holden took the opportunity to rebuild the Joy gear engines with Stephenson motion at the same time. On these engines, with the valves placed above the cylinders, the latter were placed at 2-ft. 0-ins. between centres, whereas the cylinders of the Holden engines with the valves placed between were spaced 2-ft. 4-ins. apart. However, to avoid the expensive replacement of the crank axles of the Worsdell engines, Holden fitted them with cylinders of his standard type, with the valves beneath.

There matters rested for nearly ten years. Then, in 1903, and with the need to replace the older 0-4-4Ts built under Johnson, Adams and Bromley, Holden revived his 1886 version of the M15 class with Y14-pattern cylinders and motion, and no less than 120 further locomotives were built at Stratford down to 1909.

In 1911 further 2-4-2Ts were required, and the opportunity was taken under Stephen Holden to up-date the M15 design as the G69 class. These featured 180 lbs. psi. boilers (160 lbs. psi. boilers having become standard on the M15s since the late 1890s), larger tanks and side window cabs with high, arched roofs, and rimmed chimneys. Otherwise, they were identical to the later M15s. Twenty of the new engines were built in 1911-12.

Between 1911 and 1916 a total of 32 of the later M15s were rebuilt with the new 180 lb. boiler, two engines - 789 and 790 - being additionally fitted with side window cabs of the G69 pattern. All rebuilds were fitted in addition with the rimmed chimneys. Initially, the M15R rebuilds - as they were known - could be distinguished from the originals by the chimney and the forward position of the 4 column safety valves on the 180 lbs boilers. However, from 1914 production of the 160 lbs. boiler ceased, and the 180 lbs. pattern was then fitted to the 'ordinary' M15s, but with the working pressure reduced. Still later, in the LNER period, NER-pattern cast rimmed chimneys replaced the GER stovepipes and built-up rimmed chimneys, and it became difficult to tell the two varieties apart, except by reference to the engine number: If an engine had its safety valves on the firebox, it was an M15, but if they were in the forward position it could be either an M15 or M15R. In time, the older 160lb boilers had all been scrapped and all engines carried the 180 lb pattern, with the pressure reduced on the M15s.

Withdrawal of the earlier Worsdell and Holden M15s commenced in 1913 and, in total, 150 engines were taken over by the LNER in 1923. The M15s were reclassified F-4, and the M15Rs as F-5. The twenty G69 2-4-2Ts became LNER class F-6. However, the two M15R rebuilds 789 and 790 with G69-pattern cabs misled the LNER to reclassify them F-6, an anomaly that was not corrected until the BR period.

During the LNER period, withdrawal of the F-4 class continued, whilst four engines were sent to work in Scotland. During the Second World War 15 engines of the F-4 class and one F-5 were loaned to the War Department for hauling coastal defence trains. The engines were armour plated and dispersed with their equally-armoured trains to various locations around the British coast, from eastern Scotland to the south coast of England.

A total of 37 F-4s and all 32 F-5s and 20 F-6s became BR stock in 1948. The last F-4 was scrapped in 1956, whilst the F-5s and F-6s were withdrawn in 1955-1958.